Have you rewatched any of the episodes in the years since they were broadcast?
I have – they very kindly sent me a preview of all the episodes. I’m watching myself for the first time forty-four years ago, which is a revelation really, and a pleasant one. As you can imagine, she’s a complete stranger, so I’m really objective when I look at her – when I see certain things, I think, “I like the way you did that”. And I had all the science. I seemed to be the only one who had all those long words!
Caroline John used to say she looked up the words in the scripts she had for Doctor Who so she had an idea what she was talking about; did you do much the same thing?
I must have done. Just imagine doing it now: we could Google them all. I think I’d have asked [series co-creator] Kit [Pedler] if he was coming in for the read-through, or asked someone on the team, or the crew to find out what I was talking about. But they do seem to flow quite nicely – I was quite pleased with that!
The episodes do hold up better than some other shows from that period; it’s not as static as some…
No. I was watching some with my friend Shirley Dixon over the weekend – the episode she was in (You Killed Toby Wren) she hadn’t seen herself either. It was lovely to watch that together. She just said that an enormous amount of information is being given to the audience. And how long the scenes are compared with today.
The scenes must have been eight or nine pages long…
They must have been, mustn’t they! It wasn’t as if we continually broke, and said we’d go again; it was almost treated like live television. You did not stop, you kept going unless something disastrous happened.
Do you think part of that is that so many actors from that period had come into television through rep, where your memory had to be trained?
True. It’s so different now for the kids in EastEnders and Coronation Street – you do get into that mind set of looking at a page of script and it stays, because the brain can absorb it. I can remember being able to learn page after page. Now it would be more difficult, not only because of age, but because one is not being given the scripts to learn. If the brain is used to it, it absorbs.
It’s obvious that you have learned the lines – there’s not someone standing behind the camera with an idiot board with the lines!
And Doomwatch was a show often about the arguments. It’s a show that hasn’t been that publically available, and it may be a surprise to audiences how much of a Moral Maze it was…
They were strong too, those arguments, and time given for the audience to hear both sides. Isn’t John Paul just wonderful? I am so impressed watching him again.
What did they tell you about Fay when you came on board?
Very little. I only recently recalled that it was me ringing the producer, Terence Dudley, as you could do in those days. We had worked together, and I asked if there was anything coming up, he said “leave it with me”, and the next thing I knew, I’d been offered Dr Fay Chantry in Doomwatch. The first series had gone out to a tremendous reception, wonderful feedback and publicity about it. I don’t think I realised how much I was in it… If you’d said a couple of weeks ago I was in 9 episodes, I’d have been surprised: I thought I was in about six! But it was nine.
It wasn’t necessarily a central role in all nine…
Very much so, but really part of the team. It’s very much about teamwork, and then you’d concentrate on a story where Ridge is the main storyline, or Quist is. Fay’s story of course is The Human Time Bomb. I watched that last night, and it was wow! That’s all centred on her, and very pertinent today. A friend watched it with me and he said that it wasn’t that far off from what happens today.
Well the word “doomwatch” did enter common parlance… Once you’re involved with something with that, is there a part of your brain that triggers when you see news stories and you think that you’d have done that on Doomwatch?
Possibly nearer the time. Now, there’s so much else – really from Greenpeace onwards. Greenpeace came into the headlines and took over where Kit was. That’s only just come into my brain: Kit was the Greenpeace of his time, seeing the worries ahead.
Not at all, no. There’s a certain age beyond which nobody has heard of it – “What was that? What are you talking about?” You put it in the biog, depending on who you think the audience is going to be: if it’s a mixed audience, you put Doomwatch, but otherwise it’s just one of those things. You look back and think, that was special.
I did The Flipside of Dominick Hyde, and Another Flip – that’s another thing I’m really proud to have been a part of. Aren’t they lovely, and they’re so positive – they’re saying there is a future.
What was the greatest challenge for you of working on Doomwatch?
I suppose it would be the language; looking at the script and seeing that once again I’d got all the science. But then I seemed to take it in my stride.
I don’t think I realised how lucky I was – I was a lucky girl.
The surviving episodes of Doomwatch are released by Simply Media on April 4th.
Thanks to Louiza Bennett at AIM Publicity for her help in organising this interview